Category Archives: Other

Now Blogging at

Hello anyone who might be following this still.  I will now be blogging from

I have recently joined the trend of taking my blog ‘static’ rather than using a more complicated database driven solution like WordPress. One major reason for me is that I like to write content in abstraction. I love LaTeX for this reason and I love Sphinx for the same reason. I chose Tinkerer as my static engine because it is actually built from Sphinx and it is written in my favorite language (Python). Sphinx is a code documentation framework originally built for python. I use it to generate my documentation using reStructuredText markup. I figured since I am more-or-less used to the way Sphinx does its markup, I would choose a blog engine that worked the same way. So far, I like it. It is a bit less mature than some of the other static engines out there (Octopress being a VERY popular one) but I think it will grow nicely.

My main goal for Moving The Lamppost is to serve as a place for me to record random thoughts about my work and what is going on in science at large in such a way that I can engage in dialog with others about it. Relating to that goal is my desire to foster relationships with other scientists or informed hobbyists that can approach what is termed Open Science. I hope to make this my home base for sharing what I am interested in as well as what I am actually working on: including data and figures.

Hope to engage you there!


The Thesis Whisperer’s thoughts on “The academic writer’s strike” and Elsevier

So I just caught wind of this blog but from the first few posts I glanced through, it seems a gem. This one raises some good questions regarding the academic publishing cycle and whether it is fair or actually achieves the goal of supporting the ideals of the academic endeavor: clear, accurate, and far-reaching dissemination of original ideas for the purpose of helping other people come up with original ideas to disseminate.

I think that in many ways the open publishing movement (BMC, PLoS, and similar) goes a good way to helping the problems that she raises but you cant beat the impact factors of many of the “old school” publication companies. I am interested to continue reading Mewburn’s material and suggest that you check her out as well.

The Thesis Whisperer

I have spent years exhorting students to publish as much as possible before they finish and straight after. But lately I am beginning to wonder about my place in the academic publishing system, both as a researcher and a teacher.

I don’t think I can keep handing out this advice with a clear conscience.

Academic publishing is presented as a universal good, without regard to how the publishing system operates. While publications are an essential addition to the CV in today’s competitive job market, the ethics of publishing need to be considered too. Some big publishers are making boatloads of money – in the order of millions of dollars – out of labour we academics willingly give them.

This profit largely goes into the pockets of shareholders, not the researchers or universities.

Essentially this is public money which becomes ‘privatized’. It works a bit like this. Australian citizens are…

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Google is still better than most of Corporate America

Google STILL Rocks

This is one of the reasons that Google is STILL way better than LOADS of other companies.

Google is continuing one of the coolest ideas I have ever heard of!  Last year Google launched:

the first ever global online science competition for 13-18 year old students with the Google Science Fair. Over 10,000 students from 91 countries submitted amazing science experiments. With project topics ranging from “Can I program a robot in English?” to “Can I make a sailboat even faster with a winged keel,” to “How does marinade affect carcinogen levels in grilled chicken?”…

Not only that, they seem to be doing a damn good job of including one the smartest demographics our species has to offer, THE LADIES!

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Evolution and gravity: theory? fact? law? Or: Why Ron Paul and other politicians must stop crying ‘theory’!

Background and Significance:

Recently, a pretty old YouTube clip of Ron Paul explaining that he does not accept the “theory of evolution” showed up in my Facebook feed.   It was posted by the Secular Student Alliance and provoked quite a bit of debate in the comments.  The video is from late 2007 and the relevant question posed to Paul was regarding whether or not he had raised his hand on May 3rd, 2007 when the Republican candidates at a televised debate were asked to do so if they did NOT believe in evolution.  Only three candidates raised their hands; Ron Paul was NOT one of them, by the way.

However, in this video clip, set in a more conservative, Christian setting, he affirms that:

“Well, first I thought it was a very inappropriate question, you know, for the presidency to be decided on a scientific matter… and uh, I think it’s a theory…the theory of evolution and I don’t accept it as a theory. But it really doesn’t bother me… Its not the most important issue for me… to make the difference in my life to understand the exact origin.  I think the creator that I know, you know… created us, every one of us and created the universe and the precise time and manner… and all. I just don’t think we’re at the point where anybody has absolute proof on either side.” … “I think its a theological discussion and we can have our… but if that were the issue of the day, I wouldn’t be running for public office! [laughter]”

Now there are a LOT of things we could talk about in this one clip — like whether or not the leader of the most scientifically and technologically advanced nation in the world (which btw depends on “scientific matters” to produce the vast majority of its GDP) should reasonably be expected to demonstrate a basic understanding of rudimentary scientific topics; or the old, tried-and-true trick of claiming that this is a theological question that allows for multiple opinions and points-of-view — but I want to focus this post specifically on the miss-use of the word “theory” that Paul and almost every politician today commits on a regular basis.

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siniXster’s cloaked spaceship hypothesis

Said the tin-foil-hat-wearing,  little-grey-men otaku () of the coronal mass ejection (CME) as it passed Mercury and “seemed” to illuminate a near by object:

“It’s cylindrical on either side and has a shape in the middle. It definitely looks like a ship to me, and very obviously, it’s cloaked…”

  • Before I continue: for a much less snarky response to this (and certainly higher quality) this article goes into a bit more of the specifics as explained by the researchers themselves.

So when the folks who actually analyze this stuff are asked (imagine that revolutionary idea), it turns out that these images are MASSIVELY “manipulated” using “tricks” (as in ‘hide the decline’ kind of tricks [look it up]) to create an effective graphical representation.

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Sgt. John McCary: Tribute to the fallen.

I was just listening to Wisconsin Public Radio’s To The Best of Our Knowledge, a great podcast/radio show (if you can get it in your area) that takes an hour each week to examine topics from whether Shakespeare is still relevant to high energy physics to something as “simple” as salt.  And they make it astonishingly interesting.  Like to the point where you wonder how you every went without knowing an HOUR’s worth of information about… well… salt.

They have a recent series of hours called “Boots on the Ground: Stories from the war in Iraq.”  The episode I am on is called “Coming Home.”  As yesterday was memorial day, I wanted to share a particularly poignant excerpt of an impassioned email from an Army Sergeant named John McCary as read on that show by its author.

Please take the five minutes to listen to him.

I hope that you will have a much more visceral understanding of why days like yesterday are important to honor, regardless of your particular view of whether we should have stepped foot inside that country to begin with.  It is not a day for honoring politicians or war mongers, but of honoring young men and women that put their safety and comfort aside for the very real need that any country has (like it or not – for the time being) to defend itself or others.  They knowingly put their future and welfare into the imperfect hands of our politicians.  And whether you agree with the decisions of those politicians, that sacrifice of the soldiers, especially those that do not return, can only be described as honorable.

Researching a Scientific Topic

A friend of mine recently asked me what types of resources I used to read up on and explore areas of science that I might be studying or planing to delve into with more focus. I remember how she feels. It can be quite daunting to stare at the screen and wonder, “where do I even start?” I hope that this will be a useful starting place for folks that want an idea of how to attack the staggering resources that the internet age has made available. This post is mostly aimed at folks with a mind towards academic literature searching with the purpose of becoming more of an expert on a scientific niche – an undergrad researching a writing assignment or preparing to interview with a lab they want to join for example. However, the process is not limited to this. Continue reading